In 1st Generation Dad, Parenting

Editors Note: This is the second of a two part post.

For context, watch the 8 minute video “Anchor Point” from Yeti’s My Old Man series (includes some strong language) and read Part I – Flawed and Absent.


he sheets of rain are still moving off the Gulf before making their way north to College Station, having long passed through our conversation. Lunch with J.T. Van Zant, the imagined meal, settles in and stretches toward Happy Hour specials.

We have agreed on much, and disagreed on some, but now the discussion forks, separating J.T. and I. Experience steers different courses.

“I had a natural place like this to grow in lieu of having a present father”

I often wonder about Gramps. Raised in the hills outside Macon, Georgia, my mother’s father became the man of the family at eleven. This meant learning how to hunt, fish and provide for a family earlier than any child should be obligated to. Gramps was slender in a way that made him appear taller than he was. He had a strong jaw line and taken as a whole, resembled a president not popular with folks in the South. I was told stories of him spending time pitching in minor league baseball. It was easy to see this, it fit his frame. By the time I came along, spending summers in the house he built in Sumter County, FL, Gramps was a shadow of the stories.

I do recall trips to Tampa Bay and seeing him throw a cast net into the shallows, trapping mullet with every pull. But in the eyes of an adoring grandson could he have gathered an empty net? He showed me how to dig night crawlers out of the compost pile and started me catching Bluegill out of rain canals on a cane pole and bobber. Eventually I was big enough to warrant a rod and real, making it into the local paper for landing an 11lb small mouth bass; “Grandson from Hawaii lands Big Small Mouth”. I can still see the paper in my hands, the line breaks before and after the single paragraph, but cannot recall what it actually read. We caught blue crab in the Keys together and he always wanted me along when he went to see friends…Marlboro, Old Milwaukee and the local mechanic (I know Grandma only approved one of these friends).

The last time I remember spending with Gramps was before my 6th birthday. I often wonder, given more time, the life I may’ve found around Lake Panasoffkee.

J.T. connected to the land, sea and life around his grandmother’s place…for the next 20 years I didn’t connect with anything. Not a lasting place, not a lasting person. I lived in beautiful places and I spent my days inside those places, in the warm waters from Laie to Haleiwa, the peaks of South Mission and Wind ‘n Sea, and had many people pass caringly through my life. But just as quickly as the post surf session water evaporated from my board shorts, so did any lasting singular effect of these places and people.

“And at some point it was just like look, take your experience and what you know and be the best fishing guide you can be. That was the end of confusion in my life”.

I am still confused. Not about my worth, not about any of the why’s, Providence and maturity have seen to that. What I’m confused about is today. The closing line in my bio reads “I have no idea what I am doing…” This is not a line filled with false humility; I really don’t know what I’m doing. The line concludes; “…but I know more than I did yesterday and am learning more today”. I am confused, but not about who is responsible for my life, for my choices.

“…and then the boats came into the picture…which was just like ok this why I focused on woodworking for so long…it was a real gift…”

I have watched the Anchor point video dozens of times. I’m writing this post from pages of notes on the film. I don’t know why J.T’s story, through his own words, has moved me unlike any story, book, speaker or friend has. I have related too many of his words, and have recognized parts of me, parts hidden, but unmistakably…me. But I’m still looking for that gift, for that passion that defines parts of this life. Creating, graphic design, writing, these may prove to be the gift.  This is why I’m writing now, not thinking, just writing. That phrase has served me well and I need to trust it more.

“I waited a long time, I was in my 40’s before I had my first son and I am really glad it happen that way because before then I would have been a kind of carbon copy of my father in terms of parenting”

I wondered, OFTEN, why I was single into my thirties. I don’t any more. I wasn’t ready for what God wanted to gift into my life, my wife and four children. I suppose I could have handled the Labrador back then, but even he’s a blessing now.

 “I think that the most important thing for a father these days is to show that it is possible to do what you love and be really good at it. And when come home with tenderness and affection for them, missing them, and give them everything you’ve got when you get home. And then start it all again the next day.”

If you have followed the 1st Generation Dad posts then you recognize the desire to give my kids the chance to, in all of their innocence, discover life long loves. At an early age, give them the room to grow, to let them go as far as they can get, even when it’s hard for me as a Dad. Then to be there and put them back together when they’re broken, because they will spend far more days far from my roof than they will spend under it.

I don’t know much, I have no shoulders to stand on. But I do know this, my children? They have a Dad. There will be days when they’re glad for this, there will be days when they wish they had someone different. They know I’m flawed and don’t have all of the answers. They also know this, that I am present and clear that I have a role as their Dad.

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